This isn’t a post about the Wheel of Fortune card. Dame Fortune’s Wheel (DFW) is the name given by Paul Huson to the pack of Tarot cards that he designed (the most recent addition to my collection), and it is that which I will discuss today (someday I’ll get around to a post about Key X of the Major Arcana; it’s been mentioned many times before on this blog).
Before I delve into the cards, though, I’d like to take a moment or two to talk about Huson’s book, called Mystical Origins of the Tarot.
If you’re into history (like me), this book is an incredibly valuable resource. I have other books that do a great job treating Tarot history in my library (such as Tyson’s book on Tarot magic or Decker’s book on the Medieval Scapini Tarot), but none can match this one. It is both a history of Tarot cards as objects, as well as of the various symbols used in the cards. Some of the information is surprising, but it all makes sense in Huson’s presentation of it.
It seems to me that this book is primarily marketed as a history of the Tarot, and a history of Tarot it is. But that’s not all it does. There are in-depth explanations of every card in the deck, discussing meanings as well as history, and complete with lists of interpretations from all the major names in Tarot (like Etteilla, Levi, Mathers, the Golden Dawn, and Waite, to name a few of the more familiar ones). These sections are followed by a manual for divination with the cards by several methods, ranging from simple to very complex. The entire thing is wrapped up with multiple useful appendices for further research and an extensive bibliography. Overall, this book is an excellent general-purpose Tarot book, aimed at understanding the cards in their historical context, from their inception to the present.
The book is also illustrated by the author, who happens to be something of an artist, as well. That skill proved useful when he tried his hand at creating a deck. Mystical Origins of the Tarot is not a companion to the DFW, at least, not really. But Huson definitely designed the cards with his research for the book in mind (the book predates the cards by a couple of years), and as such, the book goes well with the cards.
The cards are striking in their appearance, with bold lines and colors that evoke stained-glass windows (I heard that analogy somewhere and really liked it). The imagery of the Major Arcana can be understood and traced back to its historical origins with the aid of the book, although I do not think the book is completely necessary to enjoy the cards (I do strongly recommend it, however). Some of these cards are easily recognizable in their Marseille counterparts; some of them are very different. Mostly, though, it is subtle differences that make this deck unique. It is familiar and new all at once.
The Minor Arcana are illustrated with original artwork by Huson. Again, he made use of his research when designing these cards, synthesizing a meaning for each from multiple historic sources (none of which are as old as those of the Major Arcana, though). The images are lighthearted and playful overall, set in an idealized medieval world, not unlike Smith’s renderings for Waite’s famous Tarot. It should be noted that the style and specific content of the Minor Arcana do not mirror Smith’s at all; just the pseudo-medieval setting and playful tone. These cards are not rip-offs of the RWS in the slightest. Any overlap in design is a result of the source material (Etteilla’s minor arcana designations influenced both decks significantly, for example).
In addition to the Major and Minor Arcana, Huson includes in his deck a 79th card, labelled “Significator.” This is a practice first introduced by Etteilla, and while most deck designers abstain from including such a card, and while I generally choose my own significators from the court cards without any trepidation, I really like that Huson did this.
I like Dame Fortune’s Wheel very much. It is refreshingly original, and yet remains true to historical Tarots (assuming you put stock in Huson’s book, which I do). I could easily imagine these cards existing during the time that Tarot was a new phenomenon. Not only that, but the artwork truly is compelling. However, I do have one gripe about these cards.
I’ve read many Tarot reviews of cards I own that complain about the quality of the cardstock, but have never had any issues myself with any of them. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the DFW. The cards feel thin and flimsy, and they are so slippery that shuffling them requires great attention and care lest half the pack goes flying. For this reason, I don’t use these cards nearly as much as I suspect I would otherwise, which is a darn shame considering how awesome they are in every other way.